Dreamforce Hackathon turns Greek Tragedy

I’ve been reading the various articles and tweets about the aftermath of the Dreamforce hackathon, and so far it seems to be playing out as a Greek Tragedy

Consider the folks at Upshot. There are two facts that are undeniable – first, that they demonstrated something before the Hackathon, and second, that they should have only been judged based on what new technology they developed during the hackathon. You can argue rules and technicalities, but in my mind they had a moral responsibility to make it very clear to the judges exactly what parts were developed for the hackathon and make sure the judges considered only that in their evaluation. I have found no evidence that they had done so (I certainly did not see that in their demo).

So now, and forever, their company history will be tarnished with the perception that it was founded on deceit, their integrity always in question by customers, investors, vendors and potential employees. Who will trust them? They may find the cost of their million dollar prize to be very high in the long run.

Speaking of trust, nothing is more important to Salesforce. Let’s face it, we all trust them with our data – all sitting unencrypted on multi-tenanted databases. We trust their employees when we grant them login access to diagnose problems. So I trust Marc Benioff when he says there will be an investigation – not because I know him personally (we’ve never met), but he knows that maintaining trust is all important, and that if there was a hint of corruption around this hackathon, it must be exposed and dealt with. I also believe Adam Seligman’s description of the judging – in that he believes that is how things went. But, I also know that sometimes when you’re a vice president, people tell you what they think you want to hear, so he himself may not yet have the whole story.

The real tragedy, and the ones I feel for, is for the developer relations team. I know many of them, and I know how excited and passionate they were about the hackathon, and the prospect of it bringing in more developers to the Salesforce platform. Imagine if you left Dreamforce feeling excited about having pulled off the richest hackathon ever, only to find within hours that everything you did is now suspect, and you have to face not only a PR disaster, but the scrutiny of your top executives – and that this all comes up when you are completely exhausted from Dreamforce and want nothing more than to sleep for a week. What a nightmare.

I don’t know what Salesforce will do, or even what they should do – other than the fact that I hope they don’t choose to just sit quiet and wait for things to just blow over.

But I do encourage anyone reading this to be patient. Those are good people who are doing their best in what have become very trying circumstances. If there was any real corruption, I’m sure it will turn out to be very isolated – I cannot imagine those people involved in a widespread conspiracy as some have suggested. It’s going to take them some time to figure things out and figure out the right thing to do, just as it would any of us in a similar situation. Let’s give it to them.

 

(Note – For the record, I was part of a team that participated in the hackathon and was not a finalist )

8 Responses to “Dreamforce Hackathon turns Greek Tragedy”

  1. seth Says:

    hey dan,

    think you can add your entry over here?

    http://list.ly/list/BOb-salesforce-1m-hackathon-the-real-winner#item_330601

    we’re trying to figure out what happened. and document how many entrants there were (something they could easily do but are specifically holding back on). i feel for the dev relations people too. this looks like it went above them.

    unfortunately, first hand accounts of calls with salesforce and the analytics that have been gathering on who actually got tested suggest a pretty ugly picture. they have more than adequate ground to cut and run on upshot. the reason they can’t is probably because they are internally figuring out liability for giving a section of the participants a pass on the entrance rules and not following that into judging. their fault as much as upshot’s. it’s all gone south.

  2. Dan Says:

    I’ll have to discuss posting our entry with the team – so will respond to that part of it later this week.

    As for the rest, one other thing I feel very confident about is that a bunch of lawyers are going to make a bunch of money over this – making it even more of a tragedy….

  3. Garry@TriSys Says:

    I agree Dan – a PR disaster which has certainly put me off doing anything in the near term future with Salesforce.com as you put it – it is about trust, and they have done very badly in this regard.

  4. Dan Says:

    Oh, it’s a PR disaster, but I think it’s far too early to say that they’ve done badly with regards to trust. It’s not fair to rush to judgement of the entire company based on incomplete information of events that are so recent. Give it some time and see how things play out.

  5. Scott Morrison Says:

    I think part of the issue is the short time frame. To produce a new idea – completely polished in a month and a half is in itself suspect. For a prize of 1 million dollars you need a longer time frame. Regardless of whether or not the winners were legit, with a 2 month time frame there’s bound to be suspicion (heck I was suspicious when the contest was announced!) . When it’s an ipad or a mac book up for grabs it’s no big deal. If you’re offering a million dollars, you better have your ducks in a row.

    As a developer on the platform, I feel like SF is constantly lying about how long it actually takes to develop full blown complex applications on their platform. The myth of a single hacker developing a completely polished app in a weekend needs to die.

  6. Abhinav Gupta Says:

    Nicely put Dan, I haven’t participated but I understand passion and emotions of teams who participated, so I am looking forward for Salesforce move with hope, trust and as you said patience !

  7. Dan Says:

    Ah, the old “our tools/platform/language allows you to be incredibly productive and ship an app in a weekend” myth… it’s pretty universal among technology vendors in general. The pros know that a prototype is not a product, and that the old cliche: “90% of the project takes 90% of the time, the remaining 10% of the project takes the other 90% of the time” is conservative. I’ve always tended to apply the label “marketing hype” to that rather than “constantly lying” :-) …..

  8. Scott Morrison Says:

    Agreed ;) “marketing hype” is a much better way to put it. I’m sure there is no ill intent other than to make their platform look easy to use. Doesn’t make it any less annoying when it results in unrealistic time lines though.

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